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How to Celebrate National Fossil Day in Columbus

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea How to Celebrate National Fossil Day in ColumbusFossils at the CRPD McKnight Nature Center. Photo by Jesse Bethea.
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This Wednesday, Oct. 17, is National Fossil Day in the United States, with the National Park Service, regional and local organizations hosting fossil events all over the country. The Park Service organizes National Fossil Day every year, “to promote public awareness and stewardship of fossils, as well as to foster a greater appreciation of their scientific and educational values.”

An ambitious fossil hunter would likely skip Ohio altogether — the state’s rocks are too old for any impressive skeletons of dinosaurs or other ancient creatures. In ancient times, Ohio was entirely submerged, which means almost all native fossils are of marine life, reflected in the fact that the official state fossil is the sea-dwelling Isotelus. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Geological Survey, Franklin County is home to rocks of the Devonian Period, which lasted between 410 and 360 million years ago and left behind the fossils of shelled invertebrates and fish.

A hike through any of the creeks and ravines of Central Ohio means stepping over piles and piles of limestone, the sort of rock that can often contain an impressive fossil shell or two or several. But a fossil hunter must keep in mind where they are. Like, for example, a city park.

“To protect the parks and maintain them for everyone, digging or excavating in city parks is not allowed,” said Nancy Colvin, communication and marketing specialist for the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, in an email. “Should someone happen across a fossil, we’d ask they not remove it. There are special circumstances where we do issue permits to allow for research projects, but that permission must be obtained in advance.”

Statehouse fossils. Photos by Jesse Bethea.

The rules are similar for the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks, which prohibit the removal of any rock, mineral, or historical or archeological artifact. But while visitors may not remove fossils from the public lands around Columbus for their own collections, there are plenty of impressive specimens on display this National Fossil Day.

There is, of course, the collection of dinosaur skeletons at COSI’s Dinosaur Gallery, as well as the Orton Geological Museum on the Ohio State University campus, featuring the newly installed skeleton of Cryolophosaurus, an Antarctic predator discovered by an OSU geologist. Orton also includes an array of other fossils and geological marvels. The nature center at Highbanks Metro Park features a replica of Dunkleosteus, an enormous Devonian Period fish, the jawbone of which was once found in one of Highbanks’ many spherical concretions (Disclosure — the author’s wife is employed by Friends of the Metro Parks).

National Fossil Day will also be celebrated at the Ohio Statehouse, which is hosting a fossil tour at 12 p.m. on Wednesday with experts from the Orton Geological Museum and ODNR leading guests on a geological exploration of the capitol. The Statehouse was constructed out of limestone containing many Devonian fossils, which are now visible on any of the walls, steps and columns inside and outside the building.

As the Park Service notes, fossils offer clues for “understanding the history of life, past climates, and ancient landscapes.” Fossils are also non-renewable resources, ones that have often been called the “gateway to science” for curious children around the world. However you may celebrate, National Fossil Day is as good a time as any to learn a little more about the ancient world, celebrate the history of life and maybe look under a rock or two.

For more information, visit ortongeologicalmuseum.osu.edu.

Fossil at the CRPD McKnight Nature Center. Photo by Jesse Bethea.

Fossil sketches, via the Library of Congress.

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